This will not be an exhaustive review of the Apple TV. If you’re looking for that, I suggest you read one of these:
Here are my early impressions of the new Apple TV. Full disclosure – I registered for and received an (essentially) free Apple TV through the Apple Developer Program, so I’m not coming at this from the perspective of someone who just spend $149 or more on the device. I also had the device for about a month before it came out, but considering the App Store wasn’t available until launch day, the Apple TV only served as an iTunes media extender for that period of time.
Unboxing & Setup – Some Good, Some Terrible
The out of box experience with the new Apple TV is a mixed bag. Of course it came packed in a box that made it seem like a Christmas present and of course it’s physically well-made and easy to connect – this is an Apple device, after all.
Powering the device on for the first time and setting it up with an iPhone (6S Plus in my case) via Bluetooth was outstanding, as it should be. The Apple TV sucked in my home network security information via my iPhone and connected to the Internet without a hitch. And that’s when the fun stopped.
First the Apple TV wanted my iCloud password. I’m not sure why since it had already magically gotten other information from my iPhone, but OK, maybe Apple means for it to be more secure. No way I’m going to willingly try to type my password on a remote, especially since my password isn’t short and simple, so off I go to the iOS App Store on my new 6S Plus to download the Remote app. This app is awesome because it basically lets you use your iOS device’s keyboard when paired with the Apple TV and I’d used it with both the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV’s, so I was good to go, right? Wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with the 4th generation Apple TV. No problem, I can also pair one of the many Apple Bluetooth keyboards to it just like I had on previous Apple TV’s, right? Wrong.
Here’s the interface you get to use while entering your (hopefully complex) iCloud password and any other password you may have to enter using the new Apple TV.
Have fun with that, I guess, if your password is complex, and especially if it jumps around on that crazy horizontal line for the alphabet. And if you happen to mistype your password, you get this.
So let’s review. Apple released the new Apple TV without support for Bluetooth keyboards, something previous generations supported, and did not update its own Remote app to work with the 4th generation Apple TV. This makes for a truly terrible and frustrating experience, and I can only imagine Tim Cook and Eddy Cue either have minions to do all this crap for them or have simple passwords.
Major UI / user experience fail in my opinion.
The new Siri Remote – Not a Fan Yet
So i’m not a fan of the new remote, at least not yet. It’s too small for my hands, although it’s better than the old style that I never used anyway. While I suppose I will need to keep the remote handy if I want to take advantage of the integrated Siri functionality, that will be a bit of a pain as it will still be a secondary remote. On our main TV in the bedroom I have the following devices connected to a Sony soundbar and our 40″ TV:
- Apple TV (4th Gen)
- Roku 3
- Tivo HD
- Xbox One
I drive all that with a fairly middle of the road Logitech Harmony remote, which thankfully still works fine with the new Apple TV. Given that, I haven’t even picked up the Siri remote in a few days, and may only use it moving forward for apps/games that require the touch pad or to use Siri itself.
I will say I don’t find the touch pad to be particularly precise, although I’m willing to admit I haven’t put much time into using it or tuning my movements to whatever it requires. Still, swiping and clicking on an iPhone or iPad has never been something I could describe as imprecise.
What’s to Like – Apps
While I am pretty annoyed at the frustrating experience for entering passwords into the Apple TV and I’m still not used to the new remote, there is a good deal to like about the new Apple TV.
First of all, the device is much faster than my 3rd generation device. It’s doing more too, but even moving from app to app or app to video player, it feels so much quicker than previous Apple TV’s. Second, there are real apps now, not just those janky pseudo containers Apple worked with some companies to provide bland video experiences before.
While the app selection on launch day was fairly light, I was able to find a couple of gems on day one. Touchpress is an app that combines classical music, video of it being performed, and interesting visualizations like the notes falling onto a piano keyboard or an orchestra map with sections of instruments lighting up to the beat of the music. Star Walk Kids is a Apple TV version of the popular iPad kids astronomy app. Haven’t done a ton with it so far, but in the few minutes I showed it to our 3 year old, he really enjoyed it.
There is an enormous selection of games already, but I’m going to wait a bit before trying any of them. Mostly because I want to give it some time for the best ones to surface either via store reviews or review sites, but also because I can’t really see using the remote as a gaming controller. Once I know there are several games I’ll like, I’ll check out reviews of Apple TV-compatible game controllers and buy one.
Siri – more than just a gimMick
To prepare to write this post, I played with Siri on the Apple TV. It does a number of the things we’re used to from Siri on the iPhone, so I’m not going to go into those. What I will say, however, is that Siri is even better so far in actual use than I thought it would be based on the demo during the Apple event keynote a couple months ago.
I did a quick test, asking Siri to show me movies with Harrison Ford in them. It did, with a list of movies scrolling off the screen. So I said, “just the action movies” and the list got smaller. Then I said, “from the last 10 years” and Siri showed me the ones from 2005 to 2015. Then I said, “Show me the ones from the last year” and there was only one left – Expendables 3. So that’s neat.
What’s even better, though, is that all of the voice controls for moving around during a video are not just limited to Apple’s video playing apps. I just bounced around a movie in Plex by just pressing Siri button on the remote and saying things like, “Jump ahead 5 minutes” or “What did he say?” and everything worked exactly as expected, either moving to the point in time I specified, or jumping back 15-20 seconds to replay what I had missed.
Plex – the killer app so far
I like Plex. I used to like it a lot more before the screwed their iOS app up so much that it transformed my 3 year old’s iPad from something he could use without any help from me into something that made no sense even to me. That’s a story for another time, though. I still have and use the Plex server, and for years, all I’ve really wanted was to be able to run Plex natively on my Apple TV without jailbreaking or any other hacking nonsense. Plex on the Roku 3 is great, and over time, the Roku 3 became my primary set-top box (we ditched cable nearly 5 years ago) – with my old Apple TV being relegated to playing only iTunes content and HBO NOW.
While I’ve shifted our family’s media consumption lately to include more iTunes content, which would make it easier to shift the new Apple TV into the primary slot, the fact that Plex is not only on Apple TV but the best implementation of the Plex client yet makes it a sure thing.
So Plex looks great, works well, and feels much faster on the new Apple TV than it does on my Roku 3. While I will likely continue to get kids shows for our son via iTunes so I can make sure he has a kid-friendly movies & tv interface, I will happily continue to rip my physical media and store it on my Synology NAS so it can be served up by Plex server to the TV’s in our house.
Apple TV 4th Generation – a mixed but hopeful bag
I’m looking forward to using the new Apple TV. For what it does well, I am very happy. For the terrible, and I mean atrociously bad setup and continued UI mess with entering passwords, I am very disappointed in Apple. They can do better, and I hope they do it soon by either updating the iOS Remote app or by enabling Bluetooth keyboard support for the new Apple TV.
I’ll say again that I got this Apple TV via the Developer Program, so I only paid $1 for it. Would I pay $149 or more for one right now? Probably, although I’d be even more mad about the password nonsense. I will likely buy a second one to replace the Roku 3 on our living room TV at some point, mainly so our son would be able to watch Paw Patrol on either of our TV’s.